Building a European nightmare

The American Anti-Defamation League’s survey of global antisemitism is truly shocking. In the 102 countries surveyed, 26 per cent found that long-circulated stereotypes about Jews are alive and well. These ranged from “Jews are more loyal to Israel than their (home) country” and “Jews have too much power in the business world.”
But what is really worrying about this survey and earlier work done by Europe’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) is the prevalence of such views on our doorstep in the European Union and Eastern Europe. In Greece, for instance, 69 per cent of those surveyed affirmed six or more antisemitic stereotypes the highest percentage outside of the Middle East.

The revival of virulent antisemitism in Western and emerging Europe correlates strongly with the severe economic dislocation that has occurred in the wake of the eurozone crisis that erupted in 2010. The political results of the seemingly futile battle to keep the euro afloat will fully emerge when all results of the European parliamentary elections (held between May 22-25) are examined. The strength of right wing movements, from the virulently antisemitic Jobbik party in Hungary to Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France and Golden Dawn in Greece, can, in most countries, be directly linked to economic hardship and social dissension in the nations concerned.

The financial markets may have calmed down since 2010-11, largely as a result of emergency actions taken by the European Central Bank, but the fundamental problems across Europe remain unresolved. In Britain the jobless rate may be falling rapidly but we are the exception. Across the eurozone more than 26 million people are unemployed. In Greece and Spain the levels of unemployment among young people are in excess of 50 per cent of the workforce. In Britain we have 850,000 or 19 per cent of young people out of work and there is worry about a “lost generation.” In parts of Europe there look to be several lost generations.

There is not much current sign of Europe’s economy improving. In the first quarter of 2014 output in the eurozone was below one per cent, far too low to create new jobs. Indeed, if Germany – which grew by 0.8 per cent – is excluded from the data the region almost certainly still was in recession.

Output in France was stagnant and President Hollande’s government has just received a reprimand from the IMF. It warned that the reliance on higher taxes has reduced “the capacity of the economy to grow” and called for the size of the government sector to be shrunk. Such high levels of economic dislocation are ripe for further advances by Marine Le Pen, whose party did so well in recent municipal elections.

Notionally Le Pen’s party is not antisemitic. But French Jewish leaders believe that many of the same people control the apparatus of her party as when her avowedly antisemitic father Jean-Marie Le Pen was leader of the extremist party.

What is particularly frustrating is the failure of Europe’s leaders to make the connection between the rise of extremist parties and views in Europe, such as comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Party in Italy, and eurozone economic crisis. Many of the basic fixes, such as repairing a banking system loaded up with bad debt, have still to emerge. If this were not enough years of stagnation threaten Japanese style deflation with falling wages and asset prices. In the US, the UK and Japan the printing of money by using central banks to buy government bonds (quantitative easing) is widely credited with producing recovery. Europe has eschewed this solution largely because of fears in Germany of a recurrence of Weimar style inflation.

The result of this negligence is truly frightening. The next European parliament is likely to be a haven for extremist movements many of which, but not all, have fearsome antisemitic leanings. It is often argued that as a decision making organisation the European parliament is irrelevant. Extremist politicians have a nasty habit of pushing more mainstream parties and bureaucracies in their direction. One might have hoped that eurozone leaders would have the vision to prevent such a nightmare happening.

But it is staring us all in the face.

Last updated: 6:45pm, May 22 2014